While Darla put together last week’s Farm Forum, I was in Sioux Falls, attending more sessions for South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership.
While we learned a great deal from speakers from the South Dakota Soybean Association, POET, Raven Industries and Hefty Seed Company at Baltic, being able to tour the John Morrell plant Thursday provided the most educational experience.
Smithfield Foods has its headquarters in Ohio. John Morrell & Co. was founded in England in 1827. The Sioux Falls plant was built in 1909. Photos of early days line the walls of the visitor’s center, where we donned safety glasses, hair nets and lab coats.
Located at the north end of Sioux Falls, the facility used to be on the outskirts of town. Houses and businesses have been built all around the structure. At one time, cattle, sheep and hogs were processed at the plant. Now, only hogs are harvested.
Some of my fellow classmates had been through the plant when they were attending classes at South Dakota State University. Others have delivered animals to the loading chutes. For me, this was the first time.
The eight-story building houses 3,200 to 3,400 workers, speaking 47 different languages with a hall of flags to honor those workers. Multiple generations work at the plant, and it was noted that one of the workers will be honored for working there 52 years at the plant.
I wasn’t sure how I would react to the plant. I’ve watched videos of meat processing, but not on this scale, and it’s a lot different in person.
I’ve been out to Northern Beef Packers here in Aberdeen during the construction phase. I’ve tried to visualize how things worked at John Morrell’s compared to the Aberdeen facility. David Palmer in Aberdeen has described the process, and seeing some of the employees work deftly with their knives and cutting tools provided much more appreciation of the work that will be done in Aberdeen on cattle.
Our guides at Sioux Falls said that each hour, 1,100 hogs are processed, with 4.6 million animals going through in a year’s time. South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa farms each provide about a third of the animals. We were told that this Smithfield plant only harvests hogs from the United States.
It was amazing to see the slabs of bacon quickly sliced, packaged and boxed. Hot dogs were packed into casings and then cooked, then separated and packaged. Each of the 22 smokehouses is as big as a two-car garage. Nearly 100,000 lbs. of meat is made into eight different brands of hot dogs every day. The plant produces fresh pork as well as a full line of processed meats.
At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, there is a big demand for packaged hams. Extra people are added to the line at this time of the year to get the product ready for sale.
As part of the process to take the animal from the farm to the table, seeing the plant provided a great deal of information. The guides pointed out the changes in technology and plant modernization that keeps all of the company's processing facilities efficient and competitive. As we walked through the plant, workers smiled and greeted us. Each worker knows that quality is the responsibility of every John Morrell employee. Safety of employees is of huge concern. Turnover rate at the plant is low for the industry.
The tour provided more than a look at the facility; it provided information about the way animals are treated through this process by people who care about feeding hungry people around the world.